At Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, enjoy the island’s bounty of champion tropical trees from the Port Bougainville Trail, a 2-mile loop you can hike or bike to explore the frontcountry of this 2,500-acre preserve.
Location: Key Largo
Length: 2 miles
Lat-Lon: 25.1761, -80.3695
Fees / Permits: state park entrance fee for Key Largo Hammock
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: annoying
Restroom: portable toilet
Bicycles and leashed pets welcome. Stay on the marked trails and do not bushwhack or ride your bike down narrow side trails! There are poisonwood and machineel trees throughout the hammock, both of which can cause severe reactions for anyone allergic to poison ivy.
Expect insects no matter the time of year. Always use mosquito repellent. We were advised by an FWC officer not to do this hike during the summer months due to the ferocity of the biting insect population. As this is a botanical state park, no mosquito control spraying is done here, unlike throughout most of the Florida Keys.
Driving north on US 1 from John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, keep right at the fork for SR 905 (to Card Sound Rd). The trailhead parking area is on the right after 0.5 mile, in front of a large archway.
0.0 > Park next to the archway and follow the pavement into the woods, stopping at the iron ranger to pay your state park entrance fee. If you’re wondering about the strange look of this entrance, welcome to the Port Bougainvillea that almost was, a 1980s condo development that collapsed just in time for the state to swoop in and save this incredible botanical wonder.
0.1 > The trail curves past a composting privy, and reaches a major intersection in the pavement, with an island of planted trees and a picnic shelter in the middle. It’s here you see the first Port Bougainville Trail sign. Turn right.
Pay attention to the plant identifications and notice the subtle differences between the various trees, which blend together to form a thick green screen on both sides of the old road. Not far off into the woods in this section are the grand champion roughleaf velvetseed and boxleaf stopper, at 17 feet and 19 feet, respectively. Of the all of the grand champion trees in the hammock, few of them reach 30 feet tall—the 34-foot blolly being a notable exception.
0.3 > As you walk past a bench to the start of a stone wall on the left, watch for a break in the wall. That’s the Nature Trail, which meanders off into the hammock. Pass that by (or explore it and add another quarter mile to your walk, if on foot – don’t take a bicycle down it) and stay on the paved path.
0.4 > Pass a side trail to the left, where the nature trail loops back around to this trail. Up ahead, you can see an archway as this trail approaches where the model homes stood in Port Bougainvillea.
It’s been 16 years since we explored the full loop with the guidance of a ranger, so we’re not going to assume things haven’t changed. At that time, they’d hoped to raze the crumbling ruins of the condos, but had them fenced off. You can see on the map where the trail loops around the quarry. Keep following the obvious path and the signs around until you make the loop. While a great deal of the loop is paved, parts of it are rough limestone. It used to provide very nice panoramas across the quarry. We hope to return later in 2018 to make our way around this full loop to describe it all, when the insect population is not as intense as it is in the summer months.
Along with the mahoganies and ficus trees, gumbo limbo and poisonwood trees are the true giants, the high canopy of the hammock. But the dense thickets of the Key Largo hammock still guard botanical treasures: milkbark and red stopper, limber caper and saffron plum, a parade of tropical species like no other on this continent.
1.9 > Return to the beginning of the loop at the picnic table and butterfly garden. Turn right to exit out to the parking lot to complete the 2 mile trip.
2.0 > Return to trailhead.